Actively Inclusive: How FitPros Approaches Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
by Madison Kirkpatrick
In the past six months, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter Movement has begun to ignite the masses. As the global pandemic disproportionately impacts the black community, police violence has persisted through continuous murders occurring across the nation.
The Black Lives Matter Movement, founded in 2013 after the killing of Trayvon Martin, has only grown stronger and louder, bringing in hundreds of thousands of accomplices to stand for its mission. It truly is no secret that America is built on racial injustices and systemic inequalities. The historical facts can be traced back to the 1600s when the African people were first enslaved to further white economic development. This group of people endured centuries of violence, hatred, and being seen as less than. They fought through the Civil Rights Movement and are still fighting today, as the world relives the trauma of a different unarmed black individual being murdered at the hands of police or their white counterpart.
Many people, white people specifically, have been privileged enough to not be affected by the injustices that repeatedly take place in black and brown communities. This year however, the world saw a surge in advocacy, people of all races and backgrounds, could no longer ignore what was happening right in front of them. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery on February 23, Breonna Taylor on March 13, and George Floyd on May 25 sparked a new Black Lives Matter movement. As the rose colored glasses came off, many took a knee to the reality of what happens when you are black in America.
Since June, protests continue to occur around the world as people fight for justice and equity. National protests have been held across Boston, Los Angeles, The Bay Area, Chicago, and even Vidor, Texas, a town formerly known for their Ku Klux Klan presence. These marches have attracted children, families, and even public officials. In Philadelphia, the mayor and police chief participated in a peaceful protest, which led the mayor to make a decision to waive all citations given to anyone who attended Philadelphia protests. “In waiving these notices, I recognize that those issues are vitally important, that the pain of those marching is very real, and that their message — Black lives matter — needs to be heard every day until systemic racism is fully eradicated from this city and nation.” Anthony Sturino, a 24-year old student at the University of Wisconsin, participated in the Kenosha protest. “It took George Floyd to get people to pay attention, and now people are paying attention.” Some Black participants, however, were upset at the need for protests. A 19-year-old Black woman named Jay (surname protected) has participated in 50 protests. "I guess I'm not completely happy that white people have to protest so that my concerns get addressed."
These protests have led to major developments in new policy in the United States, for example, the disbandment of the Minneapolis Police Department, pledges to defund police departments in Los Angeles County and New York City, and the banning of no knock warrants in Louisville. We observed the American people implementing personal policies, such as local bus drivers refusing to transport police officers to protests or arrested protesters to police departments.
This movement, along with the protests and activism that has followed, fights for equality between the Black and the White community. The core mission of Black Lives Matter is not to prove that black lives matter more important than white or other lives, it is to prove that they matter as equals. We cannot say that all lives matter until Black lives matter, and this includes Black trans lives and Black disabled lives. The protests and changes by major cities have taken steps forward, but much more needs to be done.
As corporations around the nation released letters of solidarity, some performative, others genuine, FitPros was gearing to take their role in this fight to the next level. As a corporate wellness company, FitPros recognizes that we serve a wide variety of employee demographics and reflected on how these current events were taking a toll on our clients’ employee groups, specifically their BIPOC employees. After many internal discussions, we turned conversation into action. On June 4th, FitPros Founder and CEO Lindsay Johnson released her own message of truth - a moving and honest email about standing in solidarity with the Black community, enhancing current business processes, and always leading with love.
“On behalf of myself and FitPros, we vow to lead with love, educate with compassion, and learn with an open mind [...] Embedded at its foundation and interwoven in our values, our business fights for what is right and is committed to do our part to make this world happier, healthier, and equal for all.”
Lindsay not only took a stance and stuck with it, but she dedicated FitPros to be the best we can be in the fight against racism. Naturally, we received positive commentary from our community; but that did not come without backlash. We had clients who stopped responding and people on our wellness roster whose vision did not align. These people were unapologetically cut from the team and the business lost was not business missed.
Following the press release, we felt it was imperative to check in on our roster and create brave spaces for support. On June 16th, FitPros hosted two town halls where we created space for our FitPros of color to express their feelings, their needs, and their pain. We also took this time to converse with our white FitPros, many who expressed they were uncertain how to address the topic in their programs but wanted to be empathetic and supportive of their audiences.
On June 23rd, FitPros sent out a follow up email thanking those who attended and wrapping up the discussion with speaking about the purpose of our efforts. In the email, we explained the rights and responsibilities of all FitPros to strive for DEI in their sessions while also offering help to anyone who felt concern or discomfort.
“Holding space for others going through emotional turmoil while also feeling the chronic strain yourself is a lot to endure. We simply need to be human and acknowledge the pain in the room and if we don’t, people will feel devalued.”
We provided language to support these needs, and leaned on our BIPOC FitPros and Fitpros in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space, to share insight into how to be the best we can for our clients.
These town halls were well received, and provided insight into the work we need to do in building out our roster to include more Black and Brown Wellness Experts, being more intentional in our recruiting. We have given weight to client requests for support, as well as onboarded DEI consultants/experts. DEI experts will intake their respective company’s goals for the first 3-5 months of consulting. FitPros Wellbeing Manager Caitlin Ackerman starts by working with her client to conduct a needs assessment to learn about the employee demographic, and evaluate existing data to learn what the company has tried in the past. After intaking the company's needs, the Wellbeing Manager will review our roster of vetted DEIB Consultants to determine who is the best fit.
These measures are being made to ensure that we give value to black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) employees by providing them resources and access to professionals who look like and have shared experiences with them.
As we continued to look at the internal business methods that could be restructuring, we also wanted to help our clients and their employees do the same. Through the rest of June and July, FitPros facilitated three live sessions to support this mission. Our monthly Thought Leadership was dedicated to getting comfortable talking about race. This session was led by Jared Karol, who spoke on creating an anti-racist narrative and opened dialogue for best practices facilitating conversation in the workplace. Our community of business leaders came together to learn, to listen, and be solutions focused on their journey of allyship and dismantling racism personally and professionally. FitPros also facilitated back to back panel discussions.
Our “Road to Allyship” discussion was held on June 30th and sought to help facilitate equitable communication and embrace the discomfort that comes from talking about race. Panelists included LeRon Barton, an author and mentor to African-American youth; Seema Daryanai, a DEI leader at Anaplan; Cava Menzies, a musician and educator; and Rajkumari Neogy, an epigenetic coach and executive consultant. These DEI experts shared their work, their perspectives on allyship, and their personal experiences in the face of discrimation. This webinar allowed attendees to listen and develop the skills to take action in the wake of justice. Our panelists spoke about how their past and present advocacy work, offering many actionable steps to help others find their place on the continuum of allyship. Each of them agreed that allyship is needed inside and out of the workplace.
During the session, the panelists mentioned that nobody, especially Black people, has an obligation to tell people how to act. It becomes up to the White community to recognize their privilege and be allies. It is unjust to assume that the Black community should be educators to everyone who does not understand the concept of allyship, and unjust to assume that White people are unable to look inside themselves and recognize on their own what needs to be done to ensure equity.
“We need to look at who we are as leaders, who we are as advocates, who we are as accomplices in this very moment. How are we showing up in the best way that we can?” Neogy said.
On July 28th, FitPros Jess Pettitt, Gary Ware and Lindsay Johnson hosted “Building Better Connections.” This discussion used improv to navigate difficult conversations about race and show what happens when we take responsibility and create spaces where vulnerability and bravery are encouraged. Ware is the Founder of Breakthrough Play and Pettitt is a “thought leader” who uses humor to deliver content related to leadership. At the beginning of the session, Pettitt explained that there would be activities that would act as lessons to participants about how to talk about difficult conversations and accept that they might not have all the answers even if they listen to the best of their ability. Andrew Johnson and Jennifer Mason had a conversation where they had to begin their sentences with the last word of the other’s sentence, which forced them to listen and accept that you can’t anticipate how a conversation will play out. Overall, you can never anticipate the outcome, but you can be prepared to take accountability and make a difference. Also, a main point from the discussion is that it’s not always about being right or wrong, but rather making sure the other person is heard; it’s important to recognize this when having these hard conversations.
“As a white person, it’s important to be mindful of the fact that you are uncomfortable about these conversations. [...] Life is not scripted and you don’t know how conversations will go,” Pettitt said.
Throughout August, we delivered a multitude of Health Talks such as: The Psychological Impacts of Racism, Unconscious Bias Training Cultural Misappropriation, Allyship, and Knowing Your Role in Social Justice. Recognizing the mass growth in our Roster over the past four months, we sought to be intentional in how we shed light upon the awesome work these experts do outside of their time with us. In September, we launched our “Actively Inclusive” social campaign. We asked our FitPros to submit a three-word video on anti-racism and to share their story referencing their experience with discrimination or privilege recognition and what action they are taking to create/sustain change. All of the videos will be released at the end of the month.
In the meantime of the collection process, we will be interviewing our FitPros and showcasing their accomplishments through our social media platforms. Kicked off with our CEO, Lindsay shared why FitPros plays a pivotal role in offering equitable wellness solutions for all people.
“As a company it is exceptionally important to ingrain Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging into the foundation of who we are. That will be portrayed in everything that we do.”
Throughout September, we have scheduled interviews with FitPros Leron Barton, Jess Pettitt, Kiera Penpeci, and Jared Karol. We are also highlighting selected FitPros through our Wednesday “We See You” campaign, including Janice Gassam, Kevin Coakly, Dr. Kayla Harris, and others to be added as the month goes on.
On September 11, we interviewed LeRon Barton, a writer originally from Kansas who moved to San Francisco. Barton was asked “In the article “Being a Black Man in America means never feeling safe” you talk about your experience and your mentorship with young men. How can we prepare youth for the reality of this current world, while also preserving mental health and youth?” Leron felt that it is important to let Black men paint their own pictures and tell their own stories.
“If we let someone else tell our stories, they might paint us as a criminal, someone with no morals who is just a savage. My main thing is to humanize us.”
When asked what he thinks can be done today to change the reality and narrative for Black people, Barton feels that “reparations need to be paid” and that there are disadvantages for Black people who are descendants of slaves. Until these reparations are paid, inequalities will always exist. Finally, Barton spoke about how we can be better allies to the Black community.
“We need to look at racism as being very systemic. [...] We need to hire Black people. We need to support Black businesses. We need to fight for Black lives.”
The interviews are meant to get to know our FitPros more personally and give them a platform to speak about experiences, passions, and approach to fighting inequality. We simply want to provide the platform where their light is shown. In October, FitPros is committed to remaining in the space of inclusion, deepening our efforts to look across all facets of belonging. October’s “Active Against Isms” Campaign will highlight lived experiences of those who have faced discrimination and violence, those whom recently awoke to the realities of our world, and perspectives on the roadmap to action.
FitPros recognizes that our six months of effort do not compare to the countless people who dedicate their lives to justice. We fully recognize that we are at the beginning of our journey. That said, nothing has ever been more clear to our team. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging tactics need to be interwoven into the health and wellbeing of employee wellness programs. FitPros is committed to strengthening our roster, processes, collateral, and overall services to be nothing short of inclusive.
Whether it is by having our FitPros involved in group discussions, engaging in personal and team training to grow our DEIB framework, or reviewing our processes, we are committed to taking the steps needed to keep conversation going, remain active in the space and support all people’s wellbeing the fullest - especially our BIPOC community.
Want to learn more about FitPros workplace wellbeing services or how you can contribute a blog?